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Thursday, January 25, 2007

UK asks Public to help define science

I just read this news report from the bbc. An organization called "ScienceHorizons" is asking the public to get involved in shaping the world of science in the UK for the next few years. According to the article:

Sciencehorizons, a government funded programme, aims to get people discussing their hopes and fears for future technologies.

Their views will then be fed back to the government and could help shape future science policy.

The scheme was launched on Thursday. A series of nationwide events will run over the next six months.

Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "What's important about Sciencehorizons is that we're inviting anyone and everyone to get involved in the discussions, not only the scientists.

"Over the coming decades, we're going to have some huge ethical debates about science as new discoveries are made and new technologies emerge."

"We will all need to be part of making informed decisions about how we develop and use scientific and technological advances," he said.

I think this idea has some potential. First, I think that anything that gets the general public involved in thinking about science is a good thing. Organizations such as Cafe Scientifique are very effective in getting lay people and scientists together. I also think that something along these lines might work in the US as well. People are always complaining about how their tax dollars are spent on what they consider 'silly research'. If done correctly, an organization like ScienceHorizons would allow people to understand the relevance of research projects with funny sounding names! Of course, there will be some quacks hollering for investment in scientific-sounding ideas like intelligent design or young earth creationism, but even letting those people vent their silliness in a public forum would be educational.
THe one drawback I see to this approach is the comic-book look to the site. For gosh sakes, if the discussion is about cutting-edge science and technology, shouldn't the site look a little more scientific!


Joe Meert


At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If done correctly, an organization like ScienceHorizons would allow people to understand the relevance of research projects with funny sounding names! "

That is a mighty big "if." You even capitalized it. I don't know how it is in the UK, but here in the U.S. we already have a lot of input into science by those that aren't particularly "scientifically literate." In other words, congress.

That's how we ended up with the NCCAM:


At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should make clear, I think the NCCAM may be doing good work by funding good randomized double blind research, but I have feeling from reading some of the abstracts for research they funded in 2006, that a lot of the research is biased towards "magical thinking." But maybe not.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's hard to tell without some detailed examination of the site. It looks to me like they are trying to provide statistical data to debunk some of the claims made by 'alternative' medicines. I'm going to look at little deeper.


Joe Meert

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told (stupid anecdotal evidence) that the NCCAM was mainly "in the business" of doing crappy, poorly controlled studies to lend credence to alternative therapies. But looking at the abstracts of the 2006 funded studies, they seemed pretty legit. I too will do more research.

It would be deliciously ironic if the NCCAM was intended to provide funding to pseudoscientists trying to validate quack therapies (as I had been told), but has been co-opted by legitimate scientists intent on debunking them. Please keep us appraised of what you find.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

On second glance, the motivation for this organization appears to be to promote quack science...well medicine. Still, some real research does appear to be filtering through. This may be an 'action item' on my desk and on that of my colleagues. Still investigating.


Joe Meert


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